Agile Vs. Waterfall: Evaluating The Pros And Cons

agilevswaterfallAgile and Waterfall are two distinct methods of software development. The Waterfall model can essentially be described as a linear model of software design. Like its name suggests, waterfall employs a sequential design process. Development flows sequentially from start point to end point, with several different stages: Conception, Initiation, Analysis, Design, Construction, Testing, Implementation, and Maintenance.

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In contrast, the Agile method proposes an incremental and iterative approach to software design. It was essentially developed in response to the limitations of Waterfall, as a way to give designers more freedom. The design process is broken into individual models that designers work on. There is no pre-determined course of action or plan with the Agile method. Rather, designers are free to respond to changes in requirements as they arise and make changes as the project progresses. Agile is a pretty new player to the development game. However, it has made substantial gains in use and popularity in the last couple of years.

First of all, before you embark on a software design project, make sure you have the basics of software design down. You might want to look into this great web development certification course to hone your skills. Once, you’ve got this covered, you might be wondering which method is right for you and your project. Before making a choice, it is important to do some research and understand the advantages and limitations of each approach. Let’s take an in-depth look at the pros and cons of both the Agile and Waterfall methods of software development.

Agile: The Pros

Agile offers an incredibly flexible design model, promoting adaptive planning and evolutionary development. Agile might be described as freeform software design. Software developers work on small modules at a time. Customer feedback occurs simultaneously with development, as does software testing (for more information about software testing, take a look at this software testing course). This has a number of advantages, especially in project environments where development needs to be able to respond to changes in requirements rapidly and effectively.

Agile can be especially beneficial in situations where the end-goals of projects are not clearly defined. For example, if you are working with a client whose needs and goals are a bit hazy, it is probably worthwhile to employ the Agile method. The client’s requirements will likely gradually clarify as the project progresses, and development can easily be adapted to meet these new, evolving requirements. Agile is also an excellent option for experimental software design.

Lastly, this method also facilitates interaction and communication – collaboration is more important here than design. Because interaction among different designers and stakeholders is key, it is especially conducive to teamwork oriented environments. Different developers work on different modules throughout the development process and then work to integrate all of these modules together into a cohesive piece of software at the end of the project.  If you think Agile might be right for your next project, check out this great introduction to Agile course.

Waterfall: The Pros

The emphasis of Waterfall is the project plan and therefore before beginning any kind of development there needs to be a clear plan and a clear vision in order. Because the Waterfall method requires upfront, extensive planning, you can launch software fairly quickly. You can also estimate timetables and budgets more accurately, which definitely tends to please clients.

Furthermore, Waterfall development processes tend to be more secure because they are so plan oriented. For example, if a designer drops out of the project it isn’t a huge problem, as the Waterfall method requires extensive planning and documentation. A new designer can easily take the old designer’s place, following the development plan without a problem.

Agile: The Cons

Though highly flexible, Agile simply doesn’t have the structure that the Waterfall method has and this does present some drawbacks. Agile projects tend to be hard to predict, from timelines to budgets. Without a concrete plan, everything remains a bit vague and nebulous.

In addition, as previously discussed, active user involvement and intense collaboration are required throughout the Agile process. This can prove highly problematic for a number of reasons. First of all, this method of development can be quite time consuming, much more time consuming than the Waterfall method. And, it means that designers need to be committed for the duration of the project. If a designer leaves in the midst of a Waterfall method development project, it likely won’t be too big of a deal as the project is plan based. In the case of the Agile method, however, development is much more person based. Having a person drop out of the project could prove catastrophic.

Waterfall: The Cons

The Waterfall method is incredibly rigid and inflexible. Altering the project design at any stage in the project can be a total nightmare and once a stage has been completed, it is nearly impossible to make changes to it. So, if you’re planning to use Waterfall, you will need to gather all of the requirements upfront. In addition, the problem with the Waterfall method is that feedback and testing are deferred until very late into the project. So if there is a problem, it is very difficult to respond to it, requiring a substantial amount of time, effort, and sometimes money.

So, What’s Better?

When it comes down to it, neither the Agile method nor the Waterfall method is inherently better than the other. That being said, each method does have its uses. Waterfall tends to be best for static projects, where it’s not likely that many changes will be made throughout the development process. In contrast, Agile tends to be a better option for smaller projects where changes are likely to be made during the design process. Though, keep in mind that these are just rough guidelines and suggestions. Really, when it comes to choosing a method there is not a right or wrong choice. You just need to understand which method is better suited to your project and your needs.